Of course, you don't have to be a member of Black Kos to join this discussion; it's open for anybody and the more, the merrier! Come and join us on The Porch every Monday night at 7:30-ish for the next 8 or so weeks
PERSONAL STATEMENT: Why this book and why now?:
From the moment that Barack Obama declared his intention of campaigning to become the 44th President of the United States, there has been an intensified national conversation about the accomplishments and non-accomplishments of the black civil rights movement. Much of that discussion has centered around the time period 1954 (Brown v. Board) to 1968 (Dr. Martin Luther's King's assassination), around a few personalities (mostly Dr. King and Malcolm X), and around a few concepts (nonviolent civil disobedience, de jure segregation). Instinctively, these discussions seemed inadequate and flawed.
I knew that "the black civil rights movement" began prior to the ratification of the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution (the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in most cases). I knew a few of the significant names (e.g. Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph) and most of the major events of those times (e.g. Plessy V. Ferguson, the failure of post-Civil War Reconstrction, the showing of Birth of a Nation, the failure to pass an anti-lynching bill, the proposed 1941 March on Washington). But I really did not know how these "bare-bones facts" were woven into a history of black civil rights in a "big picture" sort of way.
It was the passage of Proposition 8 in California which brought me into the blogosphere. Mostly I was reading predominately gay blogs. The anger at black people for their supposed role in the passage of an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as "one man/one woman" was palapable. Occasionally, some posters would say outright racist shit but more often the argument was "black people fought for their rights, they should know better." Usually that sentiment would be supplemented with one of the few quotes by Dr. King or his wife Coretta that is taught in schools nowadays. Of course there was the obligatory mention of Bayard Rustin or the cursory mention of an event. Often, people were referring to a black civil rights history devoid of context, texture, and, ultimately, drained of meaning and significance. And those arguments were relatively easy to refute.
But I wanted to know more. After all, it was the history of my people.
And while I read some black civil rights histories that covered the years 1954-1968, I was far more interested in the times and periods prior to 1954 and Brown v. Board.
That interest in black civil rights history led me to Thomas Sugrue's Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North about a year ago.
As I stated, some of the history that Sugrue tells was familiar to me. But the sheer number and variety of the people, organizations, and events simply dazzled me (and it still does). Additionally, in covering this history of the black civil rights movement from the Great Migration to the Clinton Administration, he rightly implies that the battle for black civil rights did not end on November 4, 2008 (as many people seemed to imply); the battle continues. and it's as true of the northern part of these United States as the southern part:
At the opening of the 21st century, the fifteen most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States were in the Northeast and the Midwest...The five states with the highest rates of school segregation-New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and California-all are outside the South. Rates of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty reach Third World levels among African Americans in nearly every major northern city, where the faces in welfare offices, unemployment lines, homeless shelters, and jails are disproportionately black.Pardon my French, but we ain't overcome shit.
Sweet Land of Liberty, p. xix
Roughly a week prior to the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, I ran across a cheap copy of Sweet Land of Liberty in a used book store and began reading it again; much more closer than I had previously. Once the 2015 Baltimore Uprising happened, the chorus of keyboards (especially here at Daily Kos) wagging their finger at black communities and droning on and on about Dr. King and "nonviolence" made me angry.
It also seemed pretty obvious that this keyboard chorus knew little or nothing about any black civil rights history; much less what I was reading in Sweet Land of Liberty. The book speaks directly to many of the problems facing Baltimore and many African American communities today.
And James Baldwin taught me a long time ago not to leave anyone any "outs."
But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. James BaldwinIn many ways, I would like for this book group and our conversations in the coming weeks to be a paper trail of that destruction of innocence.
1) With the exception of this first week, each week's study will begin with a recap of the material covered the previous week. Group commentary and posted links may be included in the recap.
2) The chapter(s) to be covered for the week. I will present both an objective summary of the material and my own personal thoughts and notes.
3) I will list and link a number of secondary sources of the information in connection with the chapters under discussion.
4) Whenever possible, I will try to include some images from African American newspapers contemporary to the events discussed.
Sugrue himself (in the Acknowledgements) says that "Sweet Land of Liberty stands on the shoulders of long-forgotten journalists, most of them black, who covered the northern freedom struggle..." A few of the names are familiar with me; most are not. IMO, we can't very well highlight the author without highlighting those journalists and their valuable work.